college send-off mothering

Surviving College Drop-Off

9:51 AMHeather

“I can do hard things, I can do hard things.”

This was my mantra as the day drew near.

Lest you think too much of me, unlike other Wonder Women I know, I wasn’t referring to running a marathon or completing chemotherapy treatments.

I was talking myself off the ledge of taking my firstborn to college. 

And I don’t mean “talking to myself” as in polite thinking these things in my head. I’m talking full-on talking under my breath all the live long day.

If you came near me during the final countdown to D-Day (Drop-off Day) you would’ve heard my crazy self-talk quite audibly. While I was washing all manner of bedding and towels, or labeling them as if he was going to summer camp. Or while I was packing huge Rubbermaid bins and obsessively rereading the lists for the millionth time. 

“He’s ready for this! He’s ready for this! He’s adult. Ish. He’ll just be down the road.” 


… “I wouldn’t have this any other way.  I’ll just pretend he’s sitting in his room with the door shut doing homework. I’ll hardly notice!”

These were the nature of my “about to be a college mom” rally cries.  

I had been anticipating this whole situation. You know, for 18 years, of course. 

Yet, it felt surreal going to that “last” family dinner the night before move-in.

(AS IF. As if we shall never more henceforth sit together to eat dinner as a family of 5 ever, ever again).

College Boy, of course, picked the nearby Tex-Mex restaurant that, no kidding, has been such a mainstay of family celebrations that the picture collection from said celebrations had their very own section in his graduation party slideshow.

These Tex-Mex family celebrations for College Boy, by the way, began the night before he was born. Literally. We ate at La Hacienda and I went into labor 4 hours later.

It was fitting for this pre-college night, but also felt sentimental, and I wondered if I could hold it together. But then, the voice of Dr. Martha Lou Scott began to echo, when she told us at Baylor Orientation that our college kids need us to evoke courage and confidence in them. 

“Save the waterworks for later!” She said. 

“There’s no crying in baseball!”  (Or college drop-off goodbyes, or something like that). 

“Process the harder feelings with your spouse or friends or such, but don’t weigh your anxious college kid down with them,” she advised.

I remembered these marching orders while being seated in a corner booth.

 As the night unfolded, I knew that this would be a moment that my mind would joyfully relive time and again.

Phones were tucked away and all three teenagers were fully engaged in conversation filled with sarcastic wit.  I intentionally looked from one face to the next, taking mental snapshots. 

I went from crazy self-calming talk to uttering prayers of gratitude in my head. 

They had JUST been little people who exhausted me. But now they were transformed into bright, hysterical, and kind teenagers. I loved hearing their thoughts and soaked in every “remember when” story told from our shared history and traditions. 

Somehow, there in the jumble of thoughts, feelings, and dinner, I was overcome with a swell of hope for the future. I felt God nudge me about discoveries to come as my kids move into building their own lives. I began envisioning future family trips and Tex-Mex dinners and memories yet to be made.

Right there, in the midst of the chips and salsa, I realized the remarkable truth.

This college drop-off was not an ending at all. This moving out and moving forward is not some door slamming shut on my mothering and my connection with my son. There is not finality here at all.

This college drop-off is a precious beginning, swelling with potential. 

I don’t know why we do this to each other. I don’t know why we tend to approach this with some mindset that it’s horrible and awful and dreadful, as if it’s a death of some sort.  

Yes, it’s a big transition. Yes, it’s hard and just plain weird to drive to some place with some boxes and the kid you taught to use the toilet and then drop them off to live on their own like some grown-up person. There are things we release when our kids leave our house and of course, we miss their daily presence.

But here was the epiphany during dinner. 18 years and some months prior, I ate Tex-Mex, then experienced the process of labor and a new season was birthed, brimming with possibilities.

In that moment, I knew with a certainty that comes only from God. While there may be some pains in the process, I can feel excited about the next thing. 

I was armed with a new resolve for Drop-Off Day. I rode shotgun with my college kid while my gracious husband drove the minivan, packed to the brim with the laundered sheets and towels, all marked in sharpie with his last name on the tags. 

The university volunteers unloaded our vehicles in two seconds flat, magically transporting all the boxes to his room, and we learned quickly just how many people actually fit in a dorm room while trying to unpack. The other children were kicked to the sitting area in the hall to play card games while I fulfilled my mothering duty of putting everything in its place, at least for the time being. 

We saw old friends, picked up his text books, and made sure he had everything he needed. I left a care package on his pillow, along with letters from my husband and me.

And then it was time. We had arranged to say a quick good-bye in public, at the university’s dessert party for students and families, knowing he was about to be whisked off for Welcome Week fun.  I offered a quick hug, and whispered how ready he was for this and how excited we were to watch him soar. 

While I cried a bit on the way home, being so exhausted was a gift because I was honestly too tired to process much emotionally. 

And since then, the unexpected emotions have overwhelmed me.

Since then, I have exhaled with a realization that I’ve been holding my breath for over a year, with this big thing looming.

And I never knew. I never knew the joy and gratitude would be this amazing. I never knew that my heart would swell with a thrill like no other due to the smallest gifts like quick texts FROM HIM asking ME how my day was. Or a FaceTime call, or hearing his thoughts on the churches he’s visiting and what he really wants from a college church home.

Prayers uttered since his birth are being answered every day. He is thriving and doing well. So far, so good. I know it won’t always be this way and obstacles are bound to come.

But this I’m learning, and so, I want to cheer on every Mama out there.

You can survive taking your kid to college. You can change diapers, pick up cheerios, step on Legos, wipe the tears, scold the toddler, do the potty training, take them to kindergarten, and hold them through the heartaches and growing pains of childhood.

You can do all the mommy things, meticulously planting the seeds day after day.

Because they are going to grow a harvest. These kids are going to bloom. These kids are going to become trees that provide shade to other people. 

These kids are going to go out and learn to adult like a boss. The road may be long and windy. The road may not look like you imagine.

But your work is making a difference. Your mothering efforts are worth it. 

A day is coming when you can suddenly see it more clearly.

Just remind yourself. By the grace of God, you can do hard things. And so can your kids.

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